The day I hiked out of Stevens Pass I woke up to learn that my hiking partner since day one was going home for personal reasons. He wouldn't be joining me for the final 188 miles and with an hour and a half drive to the trailhead in front of me, we didn't have time for a drawn out goodbye. It was a last minute decision for him and before I knew it we hugged and went our separate ways. As I write this I find myself choking up simply at the thought of having experienced so much with one individual in such a short period of time. Our journey together had come to an end and as I made my way down the trail solo for the first time, I was both excited to see what the next 125 mile stretch may hold for me and saddened that I would no longer see my friend coming up the trail after me with his bandana on and his Jersey accent telling me about the hill we just climbed.
For the first time since April 10th I was alone. I didn't have to Make plans with anyone else and could push hard or hold back as much or as little as I wanted. So what happened to me between Stevens Pass and Highway 20? Well, I hiked 125 miles in 4.5 days, tripped and fell off the trail into berry bushes (epic fall), hiked 31 miles on day 4, took a polar plunge into a high alpine lake that I'll likely never be willing to hike to ever again, enjoyed a chat with a hunter who had just harvested a bear, saw a bear, hiked 10 miles in soaked shoes after slipping off a rock during a river crossing, and had a chipmunk scare the bejesus out of me when it ran into my foot. It was a good few days and as much as I missed my friend, I was enjoying having the trail to myself and taking in everything around me.
This trail is something else. I have no words to describe it. It's one of the biggest pains in the ass, yet it's been such an incredible gift. I honestly no longer care about the miles or the idea that I've made a journey by foot from Mexico to Canada. Miles and distance don't mean anything to me now. What means the world to me is the time I've had to focus on myself; enjoyed days and weeks of quiet, and the headspace to do some serious internal exploration.
I can't even begin to describe the parallels between life and this trail. It has taught me more about life in five months than I could have learned in the next 10 years. This isn't just a trail anymore. It is so much more and though the miles may end on the 2nd of September, my journey will not. This summer will forever be remembered as a gift from not just one place, but from many.
Jessica has given me the gift of unwavering support and love while patiently waiting for my return. Not once has she made me feel anything but free to finish what I started and has been there each step of the way. We've grown closer by being so far away and I'm not sure I can explain it.
My company has given me the gift of peace of mind knowing that they will take me back after leaving for 6 months. They have reached out to me time and time again to encourage me and I will forever be grateful for that.
My family and friends have gifted me with their admiration for pursuing a dream and seeing it through. When I have felt like quitting or in pain from the miles, I think of them and push just a bit more knowing that somehow they'd be proud.
I heard a story once about an astronaut who was alone in his capsule in silence when a repetitive knocking began. Whether this story is true or not, doesn't matter, but I've thought about it a lot over the years. He couldn't find what caused the knocking so he had a choice to make. He could either go mad trying to find it or find a way to cope with it. He began making music with the sound it made and in time it was no longer an annoyance, but rather a gift.
Two days ago I hiked 31 miles in 13 hours and when I reached the 25 mile mark, my feet began to yell at me. They begged me to stop, but my body could keep going so I did. Each root, each rock, and each step I took hurt, but I remembered the story of that fictional astronaut. I concentrated on the pain and though it didn't go away, I did realize something. What I felt was the result of my 31 mile goal. My body was about to carry me a hell of a long way in one day and it would be a new personal best. The pain was a culmination of 5 solid months of backpacking, hundreds of miles, hundreds of hills, and countless hours of similar aches. I realized it was no longer an annoyance or irritation, but rather a gift. My feet were telling me that I was pushing myself harder than before, but that they were still there for me step after step and mile after mile.
The pains never went away as I made my way to 31 miles and you can be sure that I walked tenderly that evening in camp. However, for the first time since stepping foot down this trail, I simply reveled in the idea of where the pain came from. In that moment I loved it and wouldn't trade it or give it up for the world. The pain was somehow beautiful.
I may be in pain, but I'm still here By Land,